By Conor Mihell
Under threatening twilight skies, sea kayaker Aleksander Doba arrived in Port Canaveral, Fla., yesterday at 7:20 p.m., after a 5,400-mile crossing of the Atlantic Ocean that began Oct. 5, 2013 in Lisbon, Portugal. Grinning beneath his trademark beard, with his long, sand-colored hair flowing in the wind and the skin of his ropy arms bronzed from months of sun, Doba waved and flashed thumbs up to the crowd of followers who came to welcome him to the United States. But the charismatic, 67-year-old Pole refused to get out of his 23-foot kayak, insisting he would continue 60 miles north, along the Intra-Coastal Waterway to New Smyrna Beach, near Daytona, his original destination.
Doba's determination made for some tricky negotiations with customs officials, says Piotr Chmielinski, who has been helping the explorer with logistical support. "Cape Canaveral is just an entry to the continent for him," says Chmielinski. "The Coast Guard couldn't believe it, but we convinced them that if he's not stepping on land, he can have his papers checked in New Smyrna Beach. They treated him really well."
Doba slept in his kayak last night and got underway on the 60-mile journey south on the Intra-Coastal Waterway this morning. Chmielinski says the final open water leg of the crossing posed difficult conditions, as Doba spent three sleepless days battling the Gulf Stream to make it to Canaveral. "For five months we worried about crossing the Gulf Stream," says Chmielinski. "If he got northerly winds, the [ocean] current and winds fight each other and you get choppy, breaking, son of a gun waves.
"And what happened yesterday?" continues Chmielinski. "He got northerly winds. The conditions kept the fishing boats on shore. It was so rough, no one could believe a kayak could come from out there."
Yet, Doba, always happy-go-lucky, landed with a smile and jokes for reports. "He texted me [from the water], 'Piotr, this is my test of how well I can navigate and handle a kayak…I'm treating the Gulf Stream like a wild mustang. But you know what? I love it,'" says Chmielinski.
Doba's son, Chez, told CanoeKayak.com that his father is always positive. "Most people focus on what could go wrong or how difficult, dangerous or long the trip is," says Chez. "My dad focuses on the little—but important—day-to-day tasks he needs to accomplish, like weather forecasts, day planning, route adjustments [and] equipment adjustments."
Chez says his father, who started kayaking around age 40, adheres to the motto, "It's better to live one day as a lion than a thousand years as a lamb." And so, Doba's Europe to North America crossing was a sequel up to his 99-day, 3,345-mile Africa to South America epic, completed in early 2011 and ranking as the longest open-water kayak voyage of all time.
While his first transit of the Atlantic was challenging—he encountered massive seas, stiff opposing ocean currents and was forced to employ a slow, labour-intensive manual desalinator to access fresh water when his electric units failed around the midway point—his second journey was both longer and tougher. Doba was unable to send messages for 47 days; on Feb. 13, 800 miles from the Florida coast, his rudder broke in a storm; and after languishing in the incessant winds and currents of the Bermuda Triangle for weeks, he finally elected to detour to Bermuda for a monthlong layover to repair his kayak. He'd spent 142 days at sea, eclipsing his 2011 record. Yet Doba insisted, "I am only 75 percent satisfied until I reach Florida."
Doba resumed his expedition on Mar. 25, determined to complete the final 24 days of the expedition. When he arrived in Canaveral Port last night, Chmielinski estimates that opposing currents, winds and other detours had stretched Doba's total paddling distance to at least 6,400 miles. Chmielinski says Doba will arrive in New Smyrna Beach tomorrow, where a welcoming party is planned. Stay tuned to Doba's website for more information.